Terms Of His Honor
Chapter 12 - Part 2
Held securely by two leering
brutes Isolde fought to reach Albion. There was no reason in her, not
anymore. The mockery of a trial combined with the horror of the sentence
being carried out numbed her mind to all thoughts but one. She must stop
this. Somehow, she must.
But she was too small, too weak. Her captors were large, muscled men. They held her arms with one beefy hand each while their remaining members roved over her body as if she were a mare at market.
As Albion was bound to the stake he looked back. His eyes were glazed from the poison her brother had given him, but she knew he saw her. More intensely, she knew he loved her. Enough to die for her, if only he could.
And if she could do no more for him, she could watch his death and remember his courage. Each blow of the lash made him tense, but he did not cry out even as his flesh was torn from his body.
Then he was turned about, and his courage was exhausted. Albion's scream brought one from her own throat. Her keepers laughed.
Without warning Prince Festil lunged away from his guards. He moved toward the executioner, but his legs were slow and shaking. One of the brigands balanced a dagger in his fingers and threw it as if the prince were a wooden target in a carnival game.
Time seemed to slow as the blade flew. Festil realized his danger too late. He turned, but could not escape the flying death.
And Connal chose that moment to shake off his captors. He dove for the prince before any could stop him. His momentum knocked Festil out of the way, but not fast enough. The dagger buried itself in Connal's chest to the hilt.
"Nooooooo!" Isolde sank to her knees in the freezing mud, her face buried in her hands. The brigand's cheers, Albion's screams, the unnaturally loud crackle of flame blended to a melange of sound. Behind her fingers, the image of Connal twitching, bleeding into the snow taunted her.
Helpless, useless, woman! The images of the brigands danced in her mind, taunting her. Daring her to do something. Laughing when she could not.
A white hot core of rage and frustration formed in her mind. It grew, drawing strength from itself, doubling its power with her every heartbeat. When it burst out in a scream of fury it seemed to tear day from night.
Silver light hotter than twenty suns exploded all around them. Isolde fell forward onto her hands and, for long moments, knew nothing save her own painful breaths and beating heart. Then, slowly, she became aware of just how loud falling snow can be when it steams.
She raised her head. What she saw made her blink, but the scene did not change. The clearing had been struck by lightning, or so it seemed. Streaks of scorched earth marked the muddy ground. The only person standing now besides herself was Albion, but he was bound to a stake. Josce and Prince Festil were picking themselves up and staring at her in amazement. The raiders lay sprawled all around them, though some at the edges of the group were twitching. The ones unlucky enough to be nearest Isolde were not only dead, they were smoking.
"Jesu Christe!" Josce ran a long fingered hand through his hair, scattering droplets as he shook it out of his eyes.
Isolde lifted her skirts and ran to Albion. Tears of relief scalded her cheeks when she saw he still breathed, though raggedly. Immediately she dug her fingers into the ropes, tugging uselessly at the stout knots.
Albion raised his head. She knew the effort cost him much agony, but still she was thankful he seemed to recognize her.
"Leave me." His voice came a scant whisper. "I'm in . . . no danger. See . . . to Connal."
She ignored his command as she cradled his face between her hands. "Thank God," she whispered, choked by tears, "you're alive."
He managed a shadow of a smile. "God had little . . . to do with this. Connal . . . is he . . ."
Isolde glanced back. Festil and Josce knelt beside Connal. From the slump of their shoulders she knew already what they were seeing.
Then Josce laid one hand on Connal's chest as Festil pulled the dagger free. Connal's hand twitched once.
And Isolde gasped. A shimmering green glow engulfed Josce and Connal. It fluctuated like liquid light. Time seemed to stop as the snowflakes grew to the size of goosefeathers.
Never had she seen a healer working his magic, but she had heard of them. Priests said such men were touched by Gabriel's own blessing. She knew, without doubt, that she was seeing one now.
Josce sat back on his heels. Prince Festil stood and extended his hand. Between them, Connal sat up and tried to rub the mud from his face with one equally muddy hand.
"It seems to be a day . . . for revelation." Albion's voice echoed Isolde's thoughts. Then, to her great relief, he passed out.
Prince Festil and Josce joined her a moment later. Josce retrieved a knife from one of the brigands and made short work of freeing Albion.
Connal sliced a piece of cloth from one of the raiders to wipe the mud from his face and hands before he came to take Albion's weight from the struggling Prince. With Connal and Josce to support him they carried Albion to the church.
When at last they laid an unconscious Albion on Brandonn's pallet Connal turned to Festil. "We've got work to do."
"What now?" The prince looked both dazed and exhausted enough to drop down where he stood.
"Those outlaws out there. They aren't all dead, and they'd better be." Connal handed the prince a long knife. "Even in your condition you should be up to cutting a few throats."
How could he suggest such a thing? "Connal, no!" Isolde caught his arm between both hands. "What's happened to you? You're talking about killing helpless men."
"Men who'd kill us if they had an even chance. And we're not exactly in fighting shape right now." Connal caught her hands in his and faced her. To her surprise his eyes showed none of the hardness a man with such thoughts should have.
"Think about it, Isolde. If we manage to tie them up and bring them in for justice what kind of a death will they have? Besides, they might just come after us in the night and none of us is in any condition to sit a watch. Stay here with Albion and Josce."
"He is right, My Lady." Prince Festil tested the feel of the knife in his hand. "If I must, I will order you to stay here."
"And I would still go with you." Isolde knew they were showing sense, but the brutality of their intentions sickened her. "My brother may still be alive. I have to see him."
"You what?" Both of them looked at her as if she'd sprouted horns.
"He is my brother, whatever else he became." She glanced at Albion. Josce knelt beside him, the green aura enveloping them both.
Connal and Festil followed her into the twilight. Isolde bent to examine each figure, for in the gloom it was impossible to find Brandonn from a distance. Behind her she heard the whisper of blades moving through flesh and the gasping gurgle of men drowning in their own blood.
Brandonn lay near the edge of the group, close to the stakes. His head hung at a weird angle from his body. She knew without doubt that his neck was broken, and by the slow rise of his chest that he still lived.
She pushed back his hood. The malevolence in his eyes tore at her heart. She brushed his hair from his ruined face and tried to clean away the mud.
"Get away from me!"
She jerked back. "Brandonn, don't. We are family, whatever else has happened."
His laugh was short, bitter. "Family? You are no sister of mine. Your whore of a mother came to us carrying you in her belly."
"No." She closed her eyes against the bitter resentment he threw at her. "That's not true. Father --"
"Father married her for the dower that wretched Furstain offered. Where do you think the money to start the stud came from? Our oats and wool?"
"No." The word was a shield, but it crumbled quickly before Brandonn's blows.
"Why do you think you are the last? Father wouldn't lower himself to lie with a whore. And you were supposed to be sold to the Church. I heard the old man from Torenth tell Father that the night you were born.
"But Father did not send you away. He let you stay with us, contaminating us all with your filth. You are no sister of mine."
Isolde closed her eyes, shaking her head as if she could drive away the horrible words so easily. A gentle hand laid on her shoulder told her Connal and Festil were standing behind her. Then Connal bent over Brandonn, a bloody blade in his hand. "She's been more sister to you than many who share the same parents ever know. And if you'd been half as good to her I might not be considering leaving you here to feed the wolves while you yet live."
Brandonn's ruined mouth twitched in a grimace of a smile. "Go to Hell, McQuillion."
"I'll let you lead the way." Connal's blade moved. Brandonn did not shudder, did not even twitch. Somehow Isolde knew he was dead.